Protect supply chains

Using simulations & analyses to help cities minimize impacts to food systems

Red and green peppers

Sandia has comprehensive expertise in improving the resilience of food supply chains for cities, regions, and countries. Sandia uses proprietary modeling and simulation tools to identify and mitigate potential disruptions to a city's food system. These methods were recently used to lessen the negative effects of Superstorm Sandy on New York City's food supply.

Sandia can also help cities develop strategies to increase the amount of food produced in close proximity to urban areas.

Urbanization and the growth of cities is accelerating. By 2050 it's estimated that 70 percent of the world's population will live in cities (compared to 49 percent today). To feed this larger, more urban population, food and energy production must increase by 70 percent.

As populations grow, cities must establish healthy and reliable food supplies for future generations. Further, in the event of a disaster, local leaders must ensure the availability and safety of food for their citizens.

Urban hunger can persist in the midst of adequate aggregate supplies due to lack of income opportunities for the poor and the absence of effective social safety nets. Cities’ economic growth is dependent on more than nutritional wellbeing of people; it also requires social services, training, and sanitation. The fight against hunger also requires targeted and deliberate action in the form of comprehensive social services, including food assistance, health and sanitation, as well as education and training, with a special focus on the most vulnerable people in urban areas.

In the aftermath of a disruptive event, cities must ensure there are sufficient supplies of high-quality food for their citizens. Large cities in particular should consider alternative policies to be better prepared for future shocks to the global system. These policies may include coordinated preparedness with neighboring states or increasing the ability to source and produce food locally.

Globally, population levels are steadily increasing faster than key food supplies such as major cereal crops. The most important challenge for the agriculture industry is to reverse this decline. If production follows trends established over the last five decades, there will soon be a global deficiency of food.

At the city level, some of the key food challenges include:

  • Food disruptions negatively affect vulnerable populations the most.
  • The current food system is not designed to support local food production.
  • Sanitary and waste disposal services are not resilient to disruptions.
  • Citizens are unaware of actions that they can take to improve urban food system resilience.
  • The food system is comprised of thousands of independently owned producers and processors. Critical supply chain information is not commonly shared among them, making a coordinated and effective response to food system disruption difficult.

Cities can increase their resilience to multiple food-shortage threats by increasing local food production, enacting policies that protect urban populations from food system disruptions, and by working with private industry to improve resilience of local and regional food systems. Cities can make their food supplies more resilient by increasing:

  • The amount of food available to cities during food supply chain disruptions
  • The amount of nutritious foods available to vulnerable populations
  • The amount of food produced in close proximity to, or within urban areas
  • The availability and function of health and sanitation services during and after localized disturbances
  • Local education on health and local-food production.

In order to improve its food supply chain resilience, a city can change the status quo of food production, consumption patterns, and food system structure. It can also develop an understanding of the following factors:

The sources of its food: Cities can identify locations with inadequate supplies of food ("urban food deserts"), quantify the supply need for nutritious foods, and identify policy solutions to lower the price and increase availability of nutritious foods to vulnerable urban populations.

The companies that supply its food: Cities can develop a regional information-sharing network that reduces food vulnerabilities through increased communication across independent companies.

The levels at which local areas can produce and process foods: Cities can quantify the amount of food being locally sourced and identify policy solutions to create incentives to increase the production and consumption of locally produced foods.

How sanitary and waste disposal systems function under current conditions: Cities can quantify the current level of health and sanitation services required for food production and identify waste disposal system vulnerabilities to localized disturbances.

Citizens' knowledge of food systems: Cities can understand the current level of the local population's education related to food system resilience and produce educational materials to change individual behaviors.

Sandia has conducted hundreds of analyses on food system vulnerabilities and resilience. It has collaborated with international and local food producers, national and international food industry associations, universities including Stanford and Harvard, public and private research institutions, government agencies, and food distribution and retail companies. Example analyses include:

Identify foodborne contamination sources: Sandia has models that can help cities rapidly determine foodborne contamination sources and identify vulnerable points in their food system.

Comprehensive risk and consequence analysis: Sandia has conducted hundreds of analyses to identify vulnerabilities in and impacts to the food supply chain. These include the consequences of large-scale and localized disruptions to the food system (e.g., Hurricane Sandy's effects on New York City, earthquakes in the Pacific Northwest, the Fukushima nuclear reactor breach, and the influence of a national pandemic on food supply-chain labor). Sandia has also evaluated the effects of manmade and natural disasters on the availability of food and on vulnerable populations.